House Republicans Not Feeling Any Pressure to Extend Unemployment Insurance

House GOP to the Senate: Go on, go on, do what you want.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) participate in a news conference after attending the weekly House Republican conference at the U.S. Capitol March 25, 2014 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
March 26, 2014, 1 a.m.

Three months after more than a mil­lion Amer­ic­ans lost their un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­ne­fits, the Sen­ate is set to move on an ex­ten­sion later this week, with fi­nal pas­sage ex­pec­ted next week. But as the Sen­ate gets closer to passing an ex­ten­sion, the House’s po­s­i­tion has not changed.

“I told the pres­id­ent I would con­sider this, as long as it was paid for and as long as there were pro­vi­sions at­tached that would ac­tu­ally help the eco­nomy and help people get back to work. Those con­di­tions have not been met,” House Speak­er John Boehner said Tues­day.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said there has been no talk amongst House Re­pub­lic­ans about tak­ing up an un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance pack­age, not­ing that the con­fer­ence is strongly be­hind Boehner on the is­sue. “There’s just not a big ap­pet­ite amongst our mem­bers to ac­tu­ally [pass the Sen­ate bill],” he said.

Part of the is­sue is the off­sets, which House Re­pub­lic­ans view as gim­micks — even though they were pro­posed by a group of their col­leagues in the Sen­ate minor­ity. While Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers in both cham­bers are sup­port­ive of a meas­ure that would pre­vent un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance be­ne­fi­ciar­ies from also tak­ing in dis­ab­il­ity be­ne­fits, House Re­pub­lic­ans are skep­tic­al that the fund­ing from ex­tend­ing cus­toms user fees from 2012 through 2024 will ever ma­ter­i­al­ize and ar­gue that pen­sion-smooth­ing will end up cost­ing more in the long run. Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans brought up the lat­ter point in re­ject­ing an earli­er un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance bill.

Re­pub­lic­ans ar­gue that if Demo­crats really want to ex­tend the pro­gram, they’ll have to find real sav­ings. “In a mul­ti­tril­lion budget, we could find tens of mil­lions of dol­lars that we could prob­ably agree on.”¦ I don’t think that’s too much to ask,” Cole ar­gued. “We’ve worked hard to cut the budget de­fi­cit as much as we have. I don’t think we should be sur­ren­der­ing these gains for pie-in-the-sky plans com­ing out of the United States Sen­ate.”

“If they were re­motely ser­i­ous, if they were really con­cerned about these people, they’d help us find the sav­ings,” Cole ad­ded.

But there is also a large group of House Re­pub­lic­ans who op­pose ex­tend­ing the be­ne­fits at all, ar­guing that the eco­nomy is slowly re­cov­er­ing and that most un­em­ployed in­di­vidu­als already re­ceive 26 weeks worth of sup­port be­fore the fed­er­al emer­gency ex­ten­sion — which ex­pired on Dec. 28 — kicks in. “We’re not talk­ing about elim­in­at­ing un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance. We’re talk­ing about go­ing back to a more nor­mal length of time,” Cole said.

Frus­trated, House Demo­crats have stopped try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with Boehner over the is­sue and are at­tempt­ing to ratchet up pres­sure on the speak­er to in­tro­duce his own plan. “I mean, talk is cheap. Let’s see a plan…. He’s re­jec­ted every plan brought for­ward, he’s not put his own plan on the table. I mean, he’s AWOL when it comes to help­ing those 2 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans,” Rep. Chris Van Hol­len said last week.

That call is likely to go un­answered.

Mean­while, Demo­crats are press­ing ahead with the Sen­ate bill, hope­ful that its pas­sage will put pres­sure on House Re­pub­lic­ans to take up the le­gis­la­tion. House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi has re­peatedly in­sisted that she can get the votes to pass the bill in the House, if giv­en the op­por­tun­ity.

“The lever­age [comes] when the Sen­ate passes this le­gis­la­tion,” Van Hol­len said. “It will provide some mo­mentum. And it will be very clear who the obstacle is. And the obstacle is not just the speak­er of the House, but all of the Re­pub­lic­ans who are stand­ing be­hind him and block­ing a vote on this is­sue.”

Cole scoffed at that idea. “I can only speak for my­self, but again, you’re not go­ing to put any pres­sure dir­ectly on me,” he said. “…You can’t let a minor­ity of the minor­ity in the Sen­ate de­cide what the ma­jor­ity of the ma­jor­ity is go­ing to do in the House. And it’s not bi­par­tis­an when most Re­pub­lic­ans vote no and a few vote yes. I mean, you’ve got a sort of fig leaf of bi­par­tis­an­ship, fair enough, but that type of le­gis­la­tion is not likely to make it through over here.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the spon­sors of the Sen­ate ex­ten­sion bill, agrees with Van Hol­len, however, and is hope­ful that swift Sen­ate pas­sage will en­cour­age her House col­leagues to at least take a look at the meas­ure. Sen. Rob Port­man, R-Ohio, said it will de­pend on how many Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans back the pro­pos­al.

But both ex­pressed con­cerns about the fi­nal pas­sage be­ing pushed to next week. The Sen­ate un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance bill only ex­tends the pro­gram through May, mean­ing they’ll have this head­ache on their hands once again in short or­der.

“It looks like we’re los­ing yet an­oth­er week, and the longer we wait, the harder it is to get it passed,” Collins said.

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